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May 24, 2005



China is trying to put off internal problems for as long as possible, distracting people from real hardships by generating foreign enemies. As the government incitement, and then crackdown, of the anti-Japan riots showed, Beijing is trying to find the balance.

The economy is still too institutionally corrupt and the civil society too weak to grow when there are real internal problems. The government hopes in the future this won't be true. It is taking short-term hits, and risking long-term harm, in able to better manage crises when they do come.

I usually compare PRC to Germany before World War I, but Germany had a sizeable and stable economy by then. Here a better comparison is with Czarist Russia. An economy in transtion, desperate need of investment from developed countries, and an Imperial decision to pick fights with the most placid neighbor (pan-Slavism Austria-Hungary / history with Japan) to divert the citizenry.

This balance allowed the Czars to hold power, and even fight off the People's Will terrorist network and a full-fledged revolution. (Of course, it also let them put off political and civil society reform for too long, opening the door for Lenin...)


China long-term goal is to displace the US leadership role in the Pacific. China is seeking hegemony in the Pacific, but not hegemony as it is understood in the West. Hegemony is understood differently in the East. It means a unequal relationship b/w China and its neighbors, a superior-subordinate relationship. It is similar to the situation prior to the arrival of Westerners to the Pacific. China was the center of power and everyone elses were vassals.

China's short term goal is working toward the long term goal. It will try to improve its leverage in the region, through hard-power as well as solf-power. It entry into ASEAN can be seen as an attempt to influence the politic of Southeast Asia.

China will try to rebuid damaged relationship with India since historically India was never within China sphere of influence, so that it can focus its power to the East. It future relationship with neighbors in the Pacific will be a mixture of threats and incentives - oscilating between the two. It can be seen when it first threatened Taiwan, then later offered hand of friendship.

Tom the Redhunter

Nice post.

In my opinion, China is upset because the growing military cooperation between the US and Japan is spoiling their plan to take back Taiwan. They'd prefer, of course, to take the island nation back the "soft" way; diplomacy and persuasion. But they'll to "hard" if necessary. They've been trying to distract us, using North Korea for example.

So China is playing on the legacy of WWII, Nanking and all that, to whip up emotion against Japan. Doesn't seem like all, most, or even many Chinese are buying into it, however. It's simply too long ago for most people to relate to.

And yes, they are trying to distract attention from domestic issues; the ageing of the population (and we think we have trouble looming for Social Security), pollution, and the simple fact that you've got a communist party that has abandoned all semblance of Marxist/Leninist/Maoist ideology and is simply trying to hang onto power. As such, the only thing they have left is nationalism.

Interesting comparison to pre-WWI Germany, but I'm not sure I see the parallels. Can you expand on this, please?

Zsa Zsa

China needs to leave Taiwan alone and let them be free!...

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